MESSAGE: Philippines – Palawan Island *VIDEO*

Crows_Nest_2Palawan is an island province (the largest) in the Philippines comprising 1,780 islands and 1,200 miles of coastline. The main island of Palawan is 280 miles long and 31 miles wide and the capital is Puerto Princesa City. The Calamaines Islands, also considered part of the province, lie just to the north of the main island.

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – If you’re looking for me in Palawan, you should start your search in the crow’s nests at the Alternative Inn in the tiny town of El Nido. I stayed at this funky place for 3 nights and spent a fair share of my time perched above the sea in the wooded decks shaped like nests.

There were little wooden tables for your drinks, round beanbag pillows to lounge on, and tie-dyed sarongs covering the seat cushions. It was the perfect place to nap, sip a young coconut, and work on your tan. Like I said, you’ll likely find me there.

EAT (Tasty Eats) – The Palawan specialty is tamilok, a woodworm mollusk ceviche. Yes, you read that right. This tasty treat was selling for US$2 for a plastic bagful on the Sebang beach. It took all of a half second for me to decline.

TamilokMy buddy Jack, however, went for it. He withdrew the transparent white worm out of the plastic baggie, sprinkled it with some vinegar and a dash of chili (to hide the taste no doubt). He said it tasted like a chewy piece of calamari, but a little slimier like an oyster. With that raving review, I think I made the right decision.

My Filipino favorite was a local seaweed called Ensaladang Lato that looked like tiny clusters of bright green grapes that are salty and pop in your mouth (not unlike tambiko on your sushi). Fun to eat!

Incidentally, I also noticed “Croc Adobado” – crocodile in coconut milk — on several menus. Until that moment, I wasn’t aware there were crocodiles in the Philippines, but obviously there are. Menus are not the way I want to find out about creatures that can kill me.

SEE (Must-see Sights) – For some reason, I didn’t have high expectations for the Subterranean River, but I have to admit, it was kind of cool. A 2.5-hour bus ride from Puerto Princesa, followed by a 10-mintue boat ride and a 5-minute walk in the jungle and you’re there.

At just over 8 kilometers, the Subterranean River used to be the world’s longest underwater river (a recent discovery in Mexico’s Yucatan blows it away at 153 kilometers). Still, it is an UNESCO world Heritage site.

I was at the head of our boat holding 6 passengers, eager to get in front so I could film some video. I didn’t realize the front person also had to be the lighting person and hold the blub up so we could see the miraculous religious icons formed by the cave’s stalactites and stalagmites. So many Jesus, Mary, and Josephs!

SHOP (Gotta Have) – For the record, I don’t need any more jewelry. (Did I really just say that?!) I especially don’t need any pearls, but that’s what the Philippines is famous for. The country’s saltwater cultured pearl industry is valued at over a billion dollars. So maybe I did buy some…what do you think?!

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – I’m fairly new to scuba diving with less than 20 dives under my belt, so I was a little leery of diving the wrecks surrounding Coron, especially when you need to take an advanced course. But not mater, this is a developing country and PADI licenses are considered a “nice to have.”

So off I went into the deep blue, tailing my dive master pretty darn close so as not to get lost in the dark wreckage. But Wow! Wow! Wow! I didn’t even think I would especially like wreck diving but this was amazing!

I dove 3 Japanese war ships from WWII that were mostly intact. We wiggled through blown-apart boiler rooms, through a sunken hull, and out the bow. I’ve never seen anything so fascinating! Here’s some video of two of the dives I did:

PI_PovertyI’m sold! Where’s the next wreck?!

GIVE (Greatest Need) – The Philippines has a population of 90 million, with more than half the country living in poverty. There are about 20 million people living on $1.25 a day and an estimated 40 million living on less than $2 a day. And while the country has reduced the percentage of Filipinos living in poverty, that total number of poor is still growing.

Most of the people living in the towns I visited didn’t have running water, indoor sanitation, nor electricity. And while I didn’t see any overt starvation, it was evident that the need is great here. If you have a chance to give to a Filipino cause, consider it money well spent. A little of your goodwill will go a long way.

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Ride in a Jeepney! Jeepneys are specific to the Philippines. Left by American troop after WWII, the surplus army jeep were sold or given to local Filipinos and now the country has made them their own.

Culion_Jeepney_1What I love is each jeepney tells a story. Most are decorated with portraits of family members, names of wives, mothers, and children inscribed on the rainbow-paint jobs, horoscope signs are often added and a fancy hood ornament tops it all off (or a rooster like this one!).

Most jeepney rides are only 8 pesos (under 20 cents) and you just need to knock on the roof to be let out!

Famous Filipino Hospitality

Even though I lived in Asia for 4 years, this was my first visit to the Philippines. And I have to admit, the longer I stayed, the longer I wanted to stay. 3 weeks simply wasn’t enough. There are so many islands (more than 7,000!), each with their own personality, and incredible beauty all around.

I’m definitely going back for another visit, which to me is the highest compliment of all!

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 28th, 2011 and is filed under Asia Pacific, Messages by Country.

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